American Sea Otters Could Be Worth $700 Million in Carbon Credits

sea otter photo

photo: Mike Baird via flickr

Yes, really... An interesting presentation at the annual meeting for the Society of Conservation Biology explains how if sea otters were restored to historically high populations along the coasts of North America, the amount of carbon stored by their activities would be worth more than $700 million on the European carbon trading market. Here's why:Otters Help Kelp Flourish
As New Scientist explains, because the sea otters keep in check animals that feed on kelp, when there are more otters there's more kelp. More kelp means more carbon storage.

Calculations done by scientists at UC Santa Cruz show that otter activity remove at least 0.18 kilograms of carbon per square meter of coastal water occupied. That means if healthy populations were restored some 100 million metric tons of carbon could be stored.

Read more about how the calculations were done and estimates of past sea otter populations in the original article.

Sea Otters Worth More Than Human Utility Value
After the gee whiz factor wore off when I first read this the thing that overtook it was a sinking feeling that though, as New Scientist points out, the estimates of carbon sequestration and the worth of the resultant carbon credits do provide incentives to protect sea otters, I can't help but feeling that the true value of the sea otters is somehow beyond calculation, beyond the utility provided in storing carbon, beyond the ecosystem services they facilitate.

I've often advocated pricing ecosystem services as a way to encourage preservation of habitat, and to raise awareness of the importance of conservation, but as useful as that is, it all still feels a bit hollow.

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